Fire Department enforces maximum occupancy levels

Maximum occupancy levels have become a hot topic after the City of Davis Fire Department began enforcing codes more strictly on Picnic Day.

Just before this year’s Picnic Day, the fire department visited restaurants that serve alcohol, mainly downtown, and began enforcement of maximum occupancy levels.

“We just had to make sure the numbers were as accurate as possible because if you’re going to enforce them, they need to be,” said Davis Fire Department’s Fire Marshal Tim Annis said. “Historically, there have been fire deaths in these types of establishments, and after last year, we wanted to ensure safety.”

Annis said though the numbers have always been in place, the department decided to begin enforcing the capacity levels more proactively after issues with overcrowding during Picnic Day 2010.

Lt. Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department said if restaurants are found in violation of capacity levels, they are required to shut down for the rest of the day. No citations were given for the violation this year.

Restaurants do not lose their alcohol license for the violation, but managers like Dee Clark of Woodstock’s Pizza’s said having to close business for a day is severe punishment in and of itself.

“We wanted to be proactive this year, so we informed the restaurants of their capacity levels before Picnic Day,” Doroshov said. “The idea is to manage the number of people for safety.”

Davis follows model state fire code, set by the International Code Council, for maximum occupancy levels. The code was last updated in January.

Model code is updated every three years and the only change from 2007′s code is a decrease in the ratio of people in waiting areas, from seven to three people per square foot. The indoor capacity of restaurants that serve alcohol is still 15 per square foot.

Annis said he visited around 30 to 35 establishments in late February and early March to inform them of their occupancy levels.

He gave the stores maximum occupancy level signs to hang in their establishments by Picnic Day, when the police began enforcing the capacity levels. The stores can either use the signs given to them or make their own.

The department verified these levels on April 11 in order to remind owners of the change closer to the event – which was held on April 16.

Clark said she questions the capacity numbers’ accuracy, but believes the idea of keeping a safe capacity is a good thing.

Clark said the older official capacity levels for Woodstock’s was set when the restaurant opened in 1986.

“The levels were a lot more severe than we expected,” Clark said. “There were definitely more people out in front of the store than inside, because we wanted to make sure we didn’t receive a violation.”

Commenters on DavisWiki responded to the changes. One concluded that bars were hit hard and that it is an attempt to shutdown Picnic Day.

However, Scott Rea, manager of Froggy’s on G Street, said he found no problems with the change in enforcement.

“Our capacity numbers have been the same for years,” Rea said. “They haven’t changed because of this decision to begin more enforcement. We had no problems on Picnic Day.”

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.

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